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Tuesday 25 February 2020

How to restart the normalisation of Serbia-Kosovo relations?

How to restart the normalisation of Serbia-Kosovo relations?

The SEESOX seminar addressing this question took place on 19 February. Ian Bancroft and Jessie Barton Hronesova spoke, and Elizabeth Roberts chaired.

The background was the 2013 Brussels agreement between Kosovo and Serbia which provided much hope for a workable relationship between the two countries. But, despite much technical progress, political relations between Belgrade and Priština had deteriorated since then.
Ian Bancroft, previously an advisor to the OSCE and coordinator for the north for the EULEX mission in Kosovo, outlined a detailed and complex set of technical issues that prevent people in Kosovo from having a ‘normal life’. He stressed that after 2017, any previous progress – in policing, civil protection and civil registration – was effectively halted. As the political dialogue has been led at top political levels without any meaningful inclusion of the civil society or citizens, for ordinary people, engagement with the ‘other side’ is still difficult. Formal collaborations such as university projects or teachers’ workshops even poses professional threats. Instead of having a centralised and controlled dialogue between the top political echelons, Bancroft argued for a be multi-levelled approach across different sections of society. Bancroft pondered over the chances of the new Kosovo government of Albin Kurti from Vetevendosje to offer a new restart and re-programme the dialogue. He outlined how Kurti ‘hit political reality’ after entering government and how he had to backtrack on some of his previous promises and red lines. ‘Reunifying Mitrovica is hardly feasible’, Bancroft stated. Instead of investing all cards in externally brokered relationships restoration, Bancroft supported local ideas and initiatives such as border-free trade in the so-called Mini-Schengen that would open up some areas of workable cooperation and mutual benefit. Ultimately, Bancroft concluded, these issues are no longer as much about the war (though that is still relevant) but about the lack of prospects and opportunities that force the young Kosovan population outside. ‘I don’t hear people talking about the war. But everyone is talking about leaving. And they all learn German’, he stressed.

Wednesday 19 February 2020

Energy dynamics in the Eastern Mediterranean: Cooperation or conflict?

On the 12th February, SEESOX hosted a panel on Energy Dynamics in the Eastern Mediterranean, a region rich in hydrocarbon reserves, territorial and maritime border disputes and regional power politics. Once believed to be a catalyst for peace and cooperation, such resources have recently become the source of tensions and disputes not just among the states in the region but involving other countries further afield as well as international companies engaged in explorations. The panel was composed of Bill Kappis, Deputy Director of Security and Intelligence Studies at the University of Buckingham, and Okan Yardimci, academic visitor at SEESOX and St Antony’s College. Both speakers responded to the question whether energy dynamics in the Eastern Mediterranean is a source of cooperation or conflict.

Bill Kappis began by looking at the underlying causes for the current turmoil in the Eastern Mediterranean. In his view it is not energy per se that bolsters or compromises relations between countries, but power politics and the current balance of power in the region, although the danger of energy competition per se should not be underestimated. Energy is an accelerator of competition but not the cause of it. He discussed the current state of play in the region, in Syria, Libya and the maritime region of the Eastern Mediterranean, and the competition over energy resources available. He also talked about the current competitions among states that have to do with the rights to exclusive economic zones and the delimitation of territorial waters. He pointed to the fact that the Eastern Mediterranean is not the only contested maritime area; there are other similar cases like the South China Sea. He mentioned that the current EU energy mix between oil, gas and other fuels and renewables has remained unchanged compared to past decades, despite environmental concerns, while competition over oil and gas resources in particular continues unabated.  But the source of competition really lies in the shifts of power and, in the case of the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkey has become a rising and demanding regional power, due to its impressive economic growth since the 1980s, its increase in GDP per capita, its rising military spending, and the population density of the country, especially when compared with other coastal states in the Eastern Mediterranean, like Greece or the North African states. He also pointed to potential flashpoints in the future - Cyprus, the Aegean, the Lebanese and the Libyan exclusive economic zones.

Monday 10 February 2020

The ‘Balkan Route’: Humanitarian and security perspectives on migration

The third seminar of the Hilary term – on ‘The ‘Balkan Route’: Humanitarian and security perspectives on migration’ - took place on 5 February 2020. The seminar chaired by Foteini Kalantzi (SEESOX), focused on the migration-security nexus and specifically on the management of reception centres, the criminalisation of migrants, as well as the role and the profile of smugglers.

The first speaker, Amanda Russell Beattie (Aston University) based her presentation on fieldwork experiences on the Greek islands of Lesvos, Chios, and Samos in 2017 and 2018. She pointed to a deep sense of frustration in the effort to speak about accountability in relation to European policies. The main questions raised from the outset were how to engage activists as scholars and what theoretical tools to use to challenge the systems surrounding the reception centres. The presentation, based on an upcoming paper, engaged with a feminist theory challenging the perceptions of hierarchies and power, and discussions of order seeking to impose standard behaviours. The reception centres are spaces where certain groups of people are perceived and treated as more vulnerable than others, i.e. mothers with children, in contrast to men who are not part of this group; however there are people, irrespective of their gender, who face physical and mental health challenges.

Wednesday 5 February 2020

EU referenda in Greece and the UK: Questions of legitimacy

On 30 January 2020, Evangelos Fanoulis (Department of International Relations, Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University) presented his research on how to assess the legitimacy of EU referenda, using two recent referenda as reference cases: the 2015 Greek referendum on whether to accept a new bail-out programme, and the 2016 UK referendum on Brexit. Although legitimacy is not a sufficient condition for democracy, it is a necessary one; and the legitimacy of referenda is a salient topic for the future of European integration. Kalypso Nicolaidis (St Antony’s College) chaired the talk.

His central message was that EU referenda—meaning, nationally held referenda on a question relating to EU integration, politics, or policy-decision-making—should be assessed for legitimacy at both national and supranational levels, looking at questions of justice and freedom, and taking account of the type of referendum.

His framework for assessing legitimacy differed from other assessments, being based on agonistic democracy. Prior research on EU legitimacy had looked at either input or output legitimacy, and/or presented legitimacy as either a top-down or bottom-up process. In contrast, agonistic democracy saw public contestation as a prerequisite for legitimacy. Citizen participation was the sine qua non of agonistic pluralism: citizens should have an effective say in democratic politics—with governments obliged to reply if they did not abide by citizens’ views. He noted that this version of agonistic democracy is based on Tully’s approach rather than Mouffe’s, making room for multinational democracies and envisaging the democratic game (agon) taking place within an equilibrium of law and freedom.

Monday 3 February 2020

Radicalisation in the Western Balkans: Political, social or religious?

Radicalisation in the Western Balkans is often portrayed as the growing influence of radical Islam. Does this stand up to rational analysis and how do political and social factors fit in? These were some of the questions that Asya Metodieva (Central European University) and Florian Qehaja (Kosovar Centre for Security Studies) tried to address during the seminar on Radicalisation in the Western Balkans: Political, social or religious?, which took place on 29 January 2020 and was chaired by Jessie Barton Hronesova (Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford).

Qehaja explained that there were a significant number of foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) coming from the Western Balkans and noted that there are different kinds of radicalisation and extremism in the region - driven by the Orthodox Church, by nationalism, etc. The issue of radical Islam in the Western Balkans came about after the conflict through a wave of NGOs using the post-conflict environment to promote non-indigenous to the region ideologies.

While the roots of radicalisation were slightly different in the various countries in the Western Balkans (e.g. depending on whether the country is secular or influenced by the Orthodox Church), in the end they were quite similar. Identity crisis of the individual, corruption, state capture, loss of hope and protagonism were all roots of radicalisation. 40% of the Kosovo FTFs had some sort of criminal background, which made them easy targets for recruiters. Enlargement fatigues also gave ammunition to recruiters and allowed them to argue that the West is not the answer for the future.